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ST. CATHARINESNIAGARA FALLSNIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE

 

People like to think that they know Niagara, but there’s so much more to the region than its famous falls. The remains of British fortresses tell the tale of a war in 1812, artists immortalized the river rapids and worn rock faces beyond the falls, and wine cultivation thrives among the far-stretching fields. So prepare to explore the Niagara you never knew.

From its humble beginnings as Shipman's Corners, St. Catharines has grown into a thriving city. Photo Credit: City of St. Catharines.
DAY 1

START YOUR TRIP IN ST. CATHARINES – 1:00 PM

DAY 1 – 1:00 PM: Your long-weekend foray into the Niagara Region starts here, in St. Catharines.

Once a hub for travellers called Shipman’s Corners, St. Catharines grew into a thriving city after the construction of the Welland Canal in 1820 brought significant trade and commerce to the region.

While the canal continues to bring business through the city, St. Catharines has also become a thriving centre for the arts. In 1969, several artists came together to form the collective known as the Niagara Artists Centre. Now, the Centre features works by local artists across various media, including painting, sculpture, performance art, and even film.

DAY 1

Visit THE ST. CATHARINES MUSEUM – 3:30 PM

DAY 1 – 3:30 PM: LEARN ABOUT THE HISTORY OF ST. CATHARINES.

The St. Catharines Museum & Welland Canals Centre traces the history and development of the entire Niagara Region. The museum has collected a wealth of written materials documenting Victorian life and follows the city’s rapid transformation into an industrialized urban centre. The Museum also has an observation deck where you can watch ships navigate the Welland Canal as they have for centuries.

DAY 1

Take IN A SHOW AT THE FIRSTONTARIO PERFORMING ARTS CENTRE – 6:00 PM

DAY 1 – 6:00 PM: St. Catharines has a long tradition of theatre and performance.

Many actors, directors, and playwrights have gathered together to form collectives and theatre companies, staging bold productions in venues across the city.

The FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre is the largest venue to catch a show in St. Catharines. Whether you’re looking to settle in and watch a play or jam out to the sounds of a local band, their roster of in-person performances is growing as they continue to develop guidelines for safe enjoyment in their spaces. Look for the return of the Film House to enjoy the best in indie film programming, and stick around after a show to connect with the filmmakers behind the flick you just watched.

The falls are beautiful, sure, but the garden offers its own stunning views. Photo Credit: Jeff Hitchcock.
DAY 2

WANDER QUEEN VICTORIA PARK – 9:00 AM

DAY 2 – 9:00 AM: If you’ve been to Niagara Falls before, you’ve been to Queen Victoria Park.

This stretch of green has the best views of the American & Horseshoe Falls. Its gardens, ponds, and flowerbeds are decorated with a rotating display of seasonal flowers. Explore the garden’s hidden gems, including the various memorials to battles fought here in 1812, as well as statues of notable figures like Nichola Tesla and King George VI. During the winter months, the park is the best place to view the light shows, illuminating the cascading waterfalls on a nightly basis.

DAY 2

learn the history of niagara falls – 12:30 PM

DAY 2 – 12:30 PM: Located a short walk away from the heart of Niagara’s tourism district, the Niagara Falls History Museum is a hidden delight.

The War of 1812 takes pride of place here with an entire gallery dedicated to its battles, but for anyone interested in a more niche history of the region, this museum teaches visitors all about the storied attempts to traverse or survive a trip of the falls by locals and adventurers alike. The museum also hosts several travelling exhibitions, including a recent one documenting the lives of descendants of those who passed through Niagara along the underground railroad. 

DAY 2

EXPLORE THE BOTANICAL GARDENS – 3:00 PM

DAY 2 – 3:00 PM: Like Queen Victoria Park, the Botanical Gardens are home to colourful displays and tranquil corners.

The gardens , established in 1936, can be explored on foot or by horse-drawn carriage and feature 99 acres of horticultural delights. Visit the Niagara School of Horticulture grounds, where you can watch students honing their green thumbs in the surrounding gardens.

Make sure to check out  The Butterfly Conservatory, a tropical transplant replete with waterfalls, thick vegetation, and thousands of butterflies fluttering around the interior. It’s not uncommon for butterflies to land right on you, so be gentle if you want to grab a selfie with the winged locals.

Niagara-on-the-Lake retains much of its 18th and 19th century charm. Photo Credit: Philipp Hienstorfer.
DAY 3

stroll through queenston heights park – 9:00 aM

DAY 3 – 9:00 AM: QUEENSTON HEIGHTS PARK, AT THE TAIL END OF THE BRUCE TRAIL, IS A HIKING PATH THAT WINDS ITS WAY NORTH TO THE VERY TIP OF THE BRUCE PENINSULA

It’s a fitting spot to begin the end of your journey through Niagara. The park houses many monuments dedicated to the Canadians who played a pivotal role in the War of 1812, like the towering column memorializing General Brock and the bite-sized monument to Laura Secord.

The Landscape of the Nations, a memorial dedicated to the First Nations who fought alongside the British during the War of 1812, is home to bronze statues commemorating John Norton and John Brant of the Mohawk Nation, a father-son duo fought alongside British forces at the Battle of Queenston Heights. The Memory Circle, a sunburst made from eight limestone walls, commemorates the Six Nations and the other Indigenous peoples allied to the British during the War of 1812.

DAY 3

WORK THE PRESS AT THE NEWSPAPER MUSEUM – 11:00 AM

DAY 3 – 11:00 AM: NEWSPAPERS ARE NOT ANCIENT HISTORY, BUT THEY ARE PART OF A LONGER TRADITION OF PRINTING THAT STRETCHES BACK CENTURIES.

As the Mackenzie Printery & Newspaper Museum, learn all about the history of printing production, from pamphlets to newspapers. Working replicas of linotype equipment and a printing press let you try your hand at printing the old fashioned way.

DAY 3

ENJOY LOCAL ART AT THE Niagara Pumphouse and LEARN ABOUT CURES & QUACKERY AT THE APOTHECARY – 2:00 PM

DAY 3 – 2:00 PM: CHECK OUT THE PUMPHOUSE  GALLERY AND STUDIO CENTRE, and then PERUSE CABINETS FULL OF “MIRACLE CURES” AND ACTUAL MEDICINE. 

Set up in a 19th-century building that once served as the pumping station for all of Niagara-on-the-Lake, the building was converted in 1994 to become the artistic hub it is today. Now, the Pumphouse hosts a rotating series of exhibitions, workshops and events throughout the year. It’s the perfect place to grab a souvenir crafted by a local artist or pick up a new artistic skill.

After the Pumphouse, walk a few minutes down the road to the Niagara Apothecary Museum for a window into Canadian medical history. The Apothecary, a precursor to our modern pharmacies, changed hands several times over the centuries before finally opening as a museum in 1971.

A number of cure-alls were sold over the centuries, some worked, some were snake oil. Photo Credit: Richie Diesterheft.
DAY 3
DAY 3

TAKE IN A SHOW AT THE HOME OF THE SHAW FESTIVAL – 5:00 PM

DAY 3 – 5:00 PM: EXPLORE THE HOME OF THE SHAW FESTIVAL.

Three different theatres are located along Picton/Queen Street, all with varying rosters of programming, are surrounded by restaurants and breweries to please every palate.

Check out the many boutique shops, galleries and cafes all along the main street, or grab dinner after the show and go for a stroll along the Niagara River. Either way, make sure to wave to the statue of George Bernard Shaw as you go along.

WANT TO TAKE A DETOUR?

Seeking something off the beaten path? We’ve only just scratched the surface of what the Niagara Region has to offer. If you’re looking to take a broader, more winding route, then here are some must-sees:

 

Pearl Morissette Restaurant & Winery – Lincoln

Situated west of St. Catharines, Pearl Morissette is a restaurant & winery situated on a picturesque vineyard in Jordan Station, Ontario, noted for its striking design by Ontario architects gh3. Their European-style menu features fresh ingredients sourced directly from local farms and complemented by their many locally produced wines. With glowing reviews in the Toronto Star, Globe & Mail, and Bon Appetit, this is a must-visit for foodies of all stripes.

 

Balls Falls – Lincoln

Nestled in the heart of a conversation area, Balls Falls is a well-preserved example of a 19th-century hamlet. Established by United Empire Loyalists in the wake of the American Revolution, the village features a lovingly-preserved blacksmiths shop, a church, and a flour mill. It’s a picturesque door into a different time and place, surrounded by equally captivating views of the Twenty Mile Creek, high cliff faces, and the southern stretches of the Bruce Trail.

 

Fort George National Historic Site – Niagara-on-the-Lake

This historic fort, which played a crucial role in the British defensive lines, was destroyed during the War of 1812 but has since been restored to its early 19th-century form. Now, you can explore the grounds and see staff in period garb engaging in re-enactments of military drills and mock battles.

 

Oak Hall – Allanburg

This early 20th-century, Tudor style manor was built for Canadian business tycoon Harry Oakes. Marvel at the intricate stonework, glare at the gargoyles and visit the lovingly-preserved main floor of this 37-room mansion. Oak Hall sits on the same stretch of green that hosts the annual Winter Lights Festival and is within walking distance of the former Toronto Power Generating Station, a wonderful Beaux-Arts style building from 1906.

This guide represents a weekend-long experience, highlighting one of the many wonderful destinations in the province. To suggest a destination for a future guide, please contact us.

 

All editorial decisions were made at the sole discretion of Ontario Culture Days staff. The guide was written by Kevin Valbonesi.